Should we be ok about horses entering the food chain?

There’s been more news today about the horsemeat scandal that rocked Britain two years ago — a Dutch trader has been found guilty and jailed for supplying horsemeat labelled as beef.

I don’t personally choose to eat horsemeat, it makes me feel a bit squeamish, but the question for me throughout the scandal was traceability, that we should know what we’re eating and through an informed choice decided beef or horse bolognaise.

But, more importantly for the welfare of our equines, I believe, is that the consumption of horse meat is more widely accepted to help solve our abandoned horse crisis. Last week, the RSPCA announced its rescue centres were full of horses that had been abandoned by their owners and could take no more. Something the likes of World Horse Welfare and Redwings — among many others — have been saying for years.

Why all these abandoned equines? I think two reasons — the first being that we are too soft to face putting down our beloved horses and hope that a nice “companion home” will look after our unsound animals until their dying day because we can’t afford to keep a horse that we can’t ride.

These horses, ponies and donkeys face uncertain futures, are often passed from pillar to post, go missing and end up at the roadside or in the food chain. The second reason is that, if we are responsible and want to face up to our responsibilities, the cost of putting down a horse — even if it goes for dog meat — is hundreds of pounds.

Two years ago, I wrote in the Mail on Sunday how I wished people were happier to eat horse in the UK, and send their horses for human consumption, to help solve the crisis. Sadly, the situation is muddied because so many of us sign our horses out of the food chain even if they have not been given bute at some point during their lives (which renders them unfit for human consumption).

I explained that, during seven years manning the Horse & Hound news desk, I saw horror after horror and heard from one naive owner after the other who had given their horse as a “companion” to someone they didn’t know simply because they couldn’t bear to put it down. I get that the decision is a hard one, but it’s one as a nation of animal lovers we must face up to.

When I wrote this article, in February 2013, with the backing of the UK’s major equine welfare charities and the British Horseracing Authority, I was shot down. Yet, a year later, Princess Anne said the same thing at a World Horse Welfare conference and her opinion was more widely accepted. I hope that’s a sign that the tide is turning.

It’s a hard decision as a horse owner — one of the worst — but it’s a decision we have to take. It’s not about disposing of an animal when we no longer have use for it, but about taking the right decision for his welfare while we are still in control of it. Otherwise, what a dismal end.


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